Sunday, June 5, 2011

Introducing Fr. Manuel de Zumaya, Composer-Priest (1678-1755)

I think I once heard someone famous claim that the Catholic Church could never produce artists of the caliber of a Beethoven, or Tchaikovsky. Maybe I heard them wrong, but I've been working at disproving that assertion lately. It all started when I learned that Vivaldi was a Catholic priest. And then I bumped into the beautiful polyphony of Fr. Tomás Luis de Victoria.

Of course, there have been beautiful composers of chants and polyphony since the Church began. Remember St. Romanus the Melodist? Awesome story, and amazingly beautiful music. Which brings me to this morning.

There I was just minding my own business, looking for some music to share with you, and somehow I stumbled upon another composer-priest story.

Have you ever heard of the baroque composer from Mexico named Manuel de Zumaya? Me neither. And sadly, I can't find very much on him in English, though there is a Wikipedia page about him. He's been called "the Handel of the Americas." The first video shared below had this in the liner notes: " a mexican priest and composer, from Mexico City; he was Kappelmeister of Mexico City Cathedral (1715-1738)."

That is what got me started on the quest for more information. On the site (you have to LOVE that as a website name!), I found this citation on him.


Manuel de Zumaya or Manuel de Sumaya (c. 1678 & ndash; 1755) was perhaps the most famous Mexico|Mexican composer of the colonial period of New Spain . His music was the culmination of the Baroque music|Baroque style in the New World ; of Spanish, French, Dutch, British, and Portuguese colonial composers, none stand out as much as Zumaya did. He was the first person in the western hemisphere to compose an Italian-texted opera , entitled Partenope (Zumaya)|Partenope (now lost).


Manuel de Zumaya was born in Mexico and was a mestizo (of mixed Native American and European descent).

In 1715, he was appointed chapelmaster of Mexico City 's cathedral , and was one of the first Americans to become one. He served there until 1738 when he moved to Oaxaca , where he followed his close friend Bishop Tomas Montaño against the vigorous and continuous protests of the Mexico City Cathedral Chapel Council for him to stay.

Manuel de Zumaya died on December 21, 1755, in Oaxaca, where he had resided since 1738.


His works are a multiplicity of his talents and styles. He was a master of the older Renaissance style and of the newer Baroque style.

In 1711, the new Viceroy, Don Fernando de Alencastre Noroña y Silva. Duke of Linares, an devotee of Italian opera, commissioned Zumaya to translate Italian libretti and write new music for them. The libretto of the first, La Parténope survives in the National Library of Mexico | Biblioteca Nacional de Mexico in Mexico City , though the music has been lost.

The Hieremiae Prophetae Lamentationes is a Gregorian chant|Gregorian —style antiquated notational piece. Zumaya authored the charmingly jolly 'Sol-fa de Pedro' (Peter's Solfeggio) in 1715 during the examinations to select the Chapel Master at Mexico City's cathedral.

Zumaya's other famous piece, Celebren Publiquen , shows his ability to handle the polychoral sound of the high Baroque era. With his distribution of the choral resources into two choirs of unequal size, he copied the style that was favoured by the Spanish and Mexican choral schools in the early 18th century. The rich textures and instrumental writing reflect Zumaya's "modern" style and are at the opposite end of the spectrum from his anachronistic Renaissance settings.

Zumaya's recessional Angelicas Milicias presents his ability to superbly combine the Baroque orchestra and choir to create a sublime and stately piece worthy of the Virgin Mary herself (to which it is dedicated). The interludio, Albricias Mortales , is done in much the same style as Angelicas Milicias.

While I keep digging for more information, check out the following four pieces that I found via YouTube. I think you'll agree that they are wonderful.

Look out below —Angelic Militias!


"Angelic militia, armies of heaven, that you protect the divine sovereign palace of the Monarch of the Holy Empire: To arms!, That the most beautiful and pure, triumphant Queen on a par, goes up, to be gratefully crowned. And this way rubs the strings, and the resound of trumpet and timpani, applauds her glories, with sweet roars of gun salutes."

I don't know about that translation, but the piece is sublime.

Something like "Guilt, as if?" I don't speak Spanish, so help me out here readers! Here are the liner notes from the person who posted this,

This aria was composed by the Kapellmeister Manuel De Sumaya, New Spain's Händel. He was born in Mexico City in 1676 and died in Oaxaca City, 1755. (some of Sumaya's music can be heard in Jack Black's "Nacho Libre", when he climbs up the cliff to get the eagle eggs) Manuel de Sumaya is the most important composer of the New Spain and he's the composer of the second american opera "La Parténope" after Torrejón y Velasco "La púrpura de la Rosa"

The Greatest Miracle music for the 1709 dedication of Basilica of Guadalupe, Mexico. So says the person who posted this video.

Joyful Light of Day. Try to stop from turning pirouettes. I dare you.

I'll keeping looking to see if I can find more information of him and his contemporary named Ignacio de Jerusalem.